The P-38 Can Opener

P-38 can opener
When doing stuff outside, eventually you are going to need to eat!

When I tear open a pouch of my homemade MREs, there might be a small can or two that needs to be opened.

My go-to can opener for doing stuff outside the infamous P-38. The very same one I have used since the time I was working for Uncle Sam. It has been described as the Army’s greatest invention.

p-38 can opener

The P-38 Can Opener

I still have a handful of 1970s vintage “Mallin Shelby O” can openers in their original plain brown wrapper. These I have secreted away to keep them safe for use if I have no other options. I also have about 40 opened P-38 can openers that are still very much usable.

P-38 can opener

P-38 can opener

P-38 can opener

I am not sure you really needed instructions, but they are included anyway!

Wikipedia has a bit of P-38 historical and technical info with links to other sites, –including engineering drawings and specifications.

The Wikipedia article does not mention that the P-38 is also a true multi-tasker. Back-in-the-day, I used it as a lightweight screwdriver. In a snap, I could loosen the large thumbscrews that were used to hold electronics gear in equipment racks. I have also used it to scrape out a bee stinger or two. I am sure there are many other ways folks have used P-38s to improvise on a task or two?

Over time, I have picked up more modern day versions of the original P-38 to conserve my limited supply of my originals.

The Coghlan’s 702 G.I. Can Opener works well. I have a few of these in my outdoor gear storage bins and backpacks. I have never had one break, but I have lost a few here and there over time. You can find these on Amazon or in the sporting goods section of most big-box stores.

Needing to stock up again, I found a big selection of P-38 “US Shelby Co” stamped can openers on Amazon. Wikipedia did say that the Mallin Hardware Company had gone out of business. In any event, I ordered a 10-pack of the P-38 openers.

I also picked up a pack of the P-51 can openers, a slightly bigger version of the P-38. The P-51 is the same size as the Coghlan’s 702 G.I. Can Opener.

The P-38 openers arrived in just a few days using Amazon Prime. The P-51 openers arrived a few days later.

These new P-38 can openers, at first use, appear to be as functional as my originals. I am not sure the new openers they were made to the original MIL-O-20582 specifications.

P-38 can opener

The “new” P-38 can opener is on top, the “classic” P-38 can opener is on the bottom.

P-38 can opener

The same again, the “new” P-38 can opener is on top, the “classic” P-38 can opener is on the bottom.

I am heading out for a weekend fishing and camping trip, I am looking forward to see how they hold up.

Update – These Amazon P-38 and P-51 replicas have performed flawlessly over the past few months of outdoor use. Some folks have talked about sharpening them. I have never felt the need to sharpen any of my vintage openers, or these newer models. They continue to all work as designed.

2 thoughts on “The P-38 Can Opener

  1. winnie

    good information on the p-38. my dirty rat ex boyfriend took the one my brother gave me. i ordered a bag from amazon, they came in no time. glad to have one again, they are awesome

  2. Gone Fishing Post author

    Winnie, never trust someone who takes your P-38!
    Thanks for the feedback!

    I hope that you will find the new P-38 can openers every bit as good as the one your ex boy friend took off with. Maybe he will lose it and be stuck with no dinner!

    Let me know about the new one’ work out! After a few camping trips, they seem to stand up pretty well in my experience.

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